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Sustainable architecture and interior design: The ultimate guide


Fernando Caruncho's Famous Green Garden in Madrid via Architectural Digest
Sustainable architecture and interior design: The ultimate guide
Clara Carlino de Paz
February 28, 2024

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The poles are melting, cities are getting more crowded. However, not everything is doom and gloom. Climate change has forced many architects and designers to consider how we can become a clear and greener society, and as a consequence, sustainable architecture and interior design have become increasingly popular. In sum, sustainable design aims to minimize the negative impact on the environment, all while creating functional and aesthetically pleasing spaces, but more importantly, it is trying to improve how we live, grow and work.

In this guide, we delve into what sustainable architecture and interior design are, why they are important, and how you can incorporate sustainable materials, lighting options, water conservation, eco-friendly furniture selection, HVAC systems, landscaping, and outdoor design into your next project. For more content, subscribe to our newsletter.

What is sustainable architecture and interior design?

Integrating sustainable strategies in architectural and interior design helps minimize negative environmental impact. By using sustainable materials and practices, balance can be achieved between aesthetics, functionality, and sustainability. Incorporating renewable energy sources reduces energy consumption and creating spaces that promote occupant health and well-being.

Why are sustainable materials important?

Firstly, by using natural and recycled materials, we reduce our reliance on finite resources and promote a more sustainable future. Additionally, these materials promote a healthier indoor environment by minimizing the use of toxic substances. Finally, these materials are durable, reducing the need for frequent replacements and saving resources.

Factors to consider for sustainable materials

Assessing the environmental impact of materials is crucial for the design process of a green building. By evaluating the life cycle of materials, including their production, use, and disposal, we can determine their overall sustainability. Another factor to consider is the sourcing of materials. Choosing locally sourced materials reduces transportation emissions and supports the local economy. Additionally, prioritizing materials with low VOC emissions improves indoor air quality. Evaluating the social and economic aspects of materials, such as fair trade practices, also contributes to sustainable design.

How to choose sustainable materials for interior design

When selecting materials for interior design, it is important to consider their sustainability. The first thing you can do is search products that have third-party certifications such as BCorp, LEED or BREEAM, which ensure their sustainability. On the other hand, you can ask suppliers and companies for more information on their materials. These are some of the questions we suggest asking.

  • Do the materials used use many resources to be created?
  • Are the materials recycled, recyclable and reusable?
  • How much water and energy is spent on this material?
  • Is sustainability at the core of the business?
  • Is durability a central element in this design?
  • Are there any toxic materials involved in the production of this element?

If the supplier can't answer this question, consider that the environmental design of their products are a simple afterthought. Or, at the very least, that they're not prioritising sustainable design at that moment.

Biophilic design for sustainability

Biophilic design integrates nature into the built environment, connecting occupants with the natural world to improve well-being. By incorporating elements such as vegetation, natural light, and views of nature, biophilic design improves sustainability by creating a durable place that enhances productivity and reduces stress. It creates spaces that foster a deep connection with the natural environment, thus allowing people to live better, more green and connected lives.

Benefits of Biophilic Design

Biophilic design offers a range of benefits for occupants. It has been found to improve cognitive function and creativity, reduce stress and enhance mental well-being. This design approach also leads to increased productivity and concentration levels. By incorporating plants into indoor spaces, biophilic design promotes better indoor air quality. Additionally, it enhances thermal comfort and energy efficiency, contributing to a healthier and more sustainable built environment. These benefits make biophilic design an essential consideration in sustainable architecture and interior design.

Examples of biophilic design in architecture and interior design

With the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and DALLE 2 here are some concepts of biophilic design.

sustainable architecture
sustainable architecture
sustainable architecture

Sustainable lighting options

In sustainable architecture and interior design, incorporating sustainable lighting options is key to minimizing energy consumption and promoting eco-friendly practices. One way to achieve this is by using energy-efficient lighting systems that reduce electricity usage. Natural daylighting can also be harnessed as a primary light source, reducing the need for artificial lighting during the day. When that is not easily available, LED lighting is another sustainable option, known for its long lifespan and low energy consumption.

Energy-efficient Lighting

When it comes to sustainable architecture and interior design, one crucial aspect to consider is energy-efficient lighting. Incorporating LED or CFL light bulbs can significantly reduce energy consumption. Installing motion sensors in unoccupied areas ensures that lights are automatically turned off when not needed, further conserving energy. Another strategy is daylight harvesting, which maximizes the utilization of natural light by implementing techniques that capture and distribute sunlight effectively. Task lighting is another essential element that provides focused illumination when required. Lastly, smart lighting systems offer efficient control and scheduling, optimizing energy usage in a sophisticated manner.

Northern Lights: bespoke lighting with a green focus

Northern Lights prioritizes UK manufacturing for bespoke lighting and accessories when budget permits, reflecting their proud heritage. They source raw materials locally to promote sustainability and minimize their carbon footprint. They have a 'zero to landfill' waste management policy in partnership with Veolia, covering various waste types, and work with AVC Weeeco for proper disposal of EEE items. Embracing energy efficiency, 80% of their factory and 100% of their office lighting is now LED, with a goal to achieve 100% LED lighting across their operations by the end of 2021. Northern Lights is committed to sustainability, actively contributing to a greener future for the planet.

sustainable lighting
Northern Lights' exhibit with Portaire at Clerkenwell Design Week 2023

Natural Lighting options for sustainable design

Designing spaces with ample windows allows for the penetration of natural light, creating a bright and inviting atmosphere. Skylights and light tubes are effective in bringing natural light to interior spaces, reducing the reliance on artificial lighting. Light shelves and reflectors distribute natural light deeper into the building, maximizing its potential. Incorporating light-colored surfaces enhances daylight reflection, while utilizing light-diffusing materials minimizes glare and creates a softer lighting ambiance. By embracing these natural lighting options, sustainable design can prioritize energy efficiency and the well-being of occupants.

John B. Murray Architect and interior design firm Cullman & Kravis via Architectural Digest

Water conservation in sustainable architecture and design

Water conservation is a crucial aspect of sustainable design. Sustainable architecture promotes responsible water usage by emphasizing water-efficient fixtures and technologies. Greywater recycling systems further reduce water consumption in buildings. Implementing water-saving strategies not only helps conserve this precious resource but also reduces the environmental impact of buildings. By incorporating these practices, sustainable architecture takes a step towards mitigating the effects of climate change and promoting sustainable development.

Water-Efficient Fixtures and Technologies

Water-efficient fixtures decrease water consumption, thus reducing energy costs and the carbon footprint of buildings. Examples of water-efficient fixtures include low-flow faucets and toilets, or even smart monitors that control water usage to clients' needs.

Greywater Recycling Systems

Greywater recycling systems are an essential component of sustainable architecture and interior design. These systems reuse wastewater for non-potable purposes, thereby reducing the demand for fresh water and conserving resources. By promoting sustainable water management, greywater recycling reduces water consumption in buildings, relieving strain on local water sources and supporting sustainability.

The ecology in furniture sourcing

Sustainable Materials for Furniture

When it comes to sustainable furniture, using natural and renewable resources is key. Materials like bamboo, reclaimed wood, and cork are excellent choices as they reduce the environmental impact. Additionally, these materials minimize the carbon footprint during the manufacturing process. By selecting sustainable materials for furniture, you contribute to creating a more sustainable built environment. Embracing these materials is a step towards a greener future.

An example of sustainable flooring is most prominent in The Main Company, who specialises in reclaimed flooring and bespoke luxury kitchen design. Reclaimed flooring is a beautiful and sustainable choice for your home or business. Each unique piece, salvaged from historical structures like textile mills or European barns, tells a story. The Main Company is dedicated to bringing you the highest quality reclaimed wood flooring, offering a limited-edition piece of history for your space. You can also check out their range on Portaire.

Upcycling and repurposing furniture

Upcycling and repurposing furniture are effective ways to reduce waste and promote sustainability. By giving old furniture new life, we can minimize the need for new production and support the circular economy by keeping items out of landfills. Additionally, upcycling allows for creative and innovative sustainable design practices to shine, showcasing the beauty of reused materials and unique pieces. As our love for mixing the old and the new shows, repurposing furniture is a wonderful way to create exciting designs full of charm and legacy.

Energy-efficient HVAC systems

Energy-efficient HVAC systems minimize energy consumption and support sustainability. By optimizing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, these systems play a significant role in sustainable building design. Implementing such systems not only reduces environmental impact but also lowers energy costs. Furthermore, sustainable HVAC strategies contribute to creating a comfortable and healthy indoor environment. These energy-efficient systems align with sustainable design principles and certifications, promoting the use of renewable energy sources, efficient insulation, and advanced control mechanisms.

Geothermal heating and cooling systems

Geothermal heating and cooling systems harness renewable energy from the ground, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and carbon emissions. Implementing geothermal systems not only contributes to sustainable building operations but also provides long-term energy cost savings. These systems align with energy-efficient and environmentally conscious building design, supporting the idea of sustainability in the 21st century. By utilizing geothermal energy, buildings can reduce their negative environmental impact and take a step towards a greener future. Geothermal systems are a key component of sustainable architecture and interior design, and you can learn more in this article about insulation.

Passive solar heating and cooling techniques

Passive solar heating and cooling techniques harness the sun's energy to regulate indoor temperatures, reducing reliance on mechanical systems. By maximizing natural resources, passive solar design promotes energy efficiency and sustainable building operations. It is an integral part of sustainable architectural design, contributing to a comfortable and eco-friendly living environment. Incorporating strategies such as thermal mass utilization and natural ventilation can significantly lower energy consumption and minimize environmental impact. With a focus on harnessing solar energy, passive solar techniques play a crucial role in the future of sustainable architecture and interior design.

Sustainable landscaping and outdoor design

Sustainable landscaping and outdoor design play a crucial role in preserving natural resources and promoting biodiversity. By incorporating native plants into the landscape, we can support the local ecosystem while also reducing water consumption. When considering the design of outdoor spaces, it's important to think about the environmental impact of hardscape materials used. Additionally, utilizing rainwater harvesting systems for irrigation contributes to sustainable landscaping practices. Not only does sustainable landscaping benefit the environment, but it also enhances the overall beauty and pragmatism of outdoor spaces.

sustainable outdoors
Imagery via Architectural Digest

Benefits of sustainable landscaping

Efficient irrigation systems help reduce water consumption, while the use of native plants promotes biodiversity and supports local ecosystems. Permeable paving prevents stormwater runoff and replenishes groundwater, contributing to sustainable landscape design. Solar-powered o8utdoor lighting ensures energy efficiency, while rainwater harvesting systems conserve water resources. By implementing these practices, sustainable landscaping not only minimizes negative environmental impact but also enhances the aesthetic and functionality of outdoor spaces.

Eco-friendly outdoor design tips and techniques

To elevate your outdoor design techniques, you can incorporate sustainable building materials like reclaimed wood or recycled metal for outdoor structures. On the energy side, you can utilize solar panels to power outdoor amenities and reduce energy costs.

As outdoor spaces need different temperatures to operate effectively, we recommend adding natural shading elements such as pergolas or shade trees. Green roofs are also great to decrease the heat island effect and improve insulation.

If you live in a rainy area, we suggest incorporating a rain garden or bioswale to naturally filter and treat stormwater runoff.

Future of sustainable architecture and interior design

The future of sustainable architecture and interior design will be defined by its commitment to natural materials, greenery and hopefully, many technological advancements. There might be a long way to go, but with 2030 goals in motion and the incorporation of ESG principles in every step of the design journey, we think sustainable design will become the norm rather than the exception.